GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — NATO military leaders stood before a crowd of coalition partners here and described efforts to stem future “insider attacks” following a surge in the number of coalition troops killed last year by Afghan forces.
Among their solutions is a new three-day course aimed at teaching troops in Afghanistan to identify behavioral cues that might presage an attack. Last year, 62 servicemembers were killed in 46 attacks by Afghan forces, according to NATO officials.
The conference presented by staff in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul sought to educate international officers on efforts to limit the attacks, as well as steel them for future casualties.
“It will continue to happen,” said U.S. Marine Col. John Walsh, who is part of ISAF commander Gen. John Allen’s assistance and advisory team. “It will not be a military threat to the campaign, but it will be a strategic one.”
Insider attacks have claimed 278 coalition members since operations in Afghanistan began, according to Walsh. Their increased frequency in 2012 forced commanders to grapple with a phenomenon that appears to extend as much from cultural grievances as much as enemy tactics.
Some commanders have urged soldiers and advisers to work more closely with their Afghan counterparts to encourage a greater sense of trust. Yet new rules required an armed coalition guard — or “guardian angel” — attend all interactions between coalition and Afghan forces.
Pre-deployment training, cultural training and in-theater refreshers attempt to prepare servicemembers for the possibility of insider attacks, Walsh noted. Assessment teams respond to the scene of every attack and investigators work for weeks or months to piece together motivations behind each incident.
The new course, in “human behavior recognition and analysis” began earlier this month in regions across the country. With U.S. funding, troops already stationed across Afghanistan are undergoing three days of training in recognizing behavioral cues to identify possible threats.
Greg Williams, a former Detroit police officer who now works for defense contractor Orbis Operations, which is running the course, said the premise is to force soldiers to pay better attention to human behavior more than cultural signs. Anger, frustration and evasiveness are detectable in every person, he said.
“Everybody can engage in certain levels of anger,” Williams said. “... What we want to do is when this cue and this cue and this cue, when they come together, it always means homicidal intent. Those are easy to pick out.”
Williams had soldiers role-play several scenarios, and he asked attendees to observe the behavior of each actor. During a mock vehicle checkpoint that saw eight soldiers in two cars interacting with a pair of guards, he pointed out nervous tics, blushes, hand gestures and the position of feet.
Such “anomalies” must be noted by soldiers, he said and quickly acted on if abundant.
Whether the training makes a difference remains to be seen. As the coalition prepares for another fighting season, it is dealing with an increased impatience by coalition members eager to send their troops home.
Insider attacks have only added to distaste over the direction of the war, despite security gains, officials say, making them a long-term strategic threat to operations.
“I’m sure many of you have witnessed the political pressure created by this phenomenon in your home country,” he said.